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A Week for Welsh Bugs!

I’m back on the Nightjar, this time at a completely different location, just to switch things up a bit . So far I have 3 pairs , including this Male that’s switching his roost up every night but does come back to the same ones every now and again. Each roost he uses though is pretty well covered so I won’t be trying to get close photographs of this one, which does not matter to me at all, as once you’ve spent as much time as I have researching them, just finding one without disturbing them gives you such a great sense of achievement and most of the time I just rock up, look at them through my bins from a distance and go straight home.

Male Nightjar

The great thing about searching for Nightjar, it requires similar searching methods to how you would search for rare insects, paying great attention to the small details. I always bring my macro lens with me and this week, I’m so glad that I did, as not only has it been fun photographing a variety of different species in beautiful sunshine, every now and again you stumble upon a gem!

A short walk along the Gwent Levels and upon arriving back at the car, I noticed a very small Hoverfly that was so brightly marked I thought it was a wasp. It just to happened to be a member of the Chrysotoxum family which are ‘wasp mimics’ and if it weren’t for the featherlight flight pattern, it would have had me fooled!.
I’m not going to pretend like I knew what it was in the field, as I didn’t. All I knew was, I’ve never seen one of these before, as I do have a photographic memory. I managed to snap a few different photo angles, trying to get the full back pattern and the antenna which are usually key features in identifying hoverflies. There are around 280 different species of Hoverfly in the Uk, some of which are isolated populations in specialist habitats. In the case of Chrysotoxum, they are described as being ‘The Difficult Five’ as they are very similar and usually requires close examination by an expert in order to ID them. Luckily for me I always take multiple angled pictures when photographing insects as I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not always possible to ID via a photograph. This is why so many bug specialists take home life samples to study under a microscope.
As soon as I got home I looked in my Hoverfly book which I downloaded on my phone, it’s called ‘Britains Hoverflies’ and it’s written by Stuart Ball & Roger Morris. The book was great, and the description / images provided me with enough detail to rule out a few species straight away and it was looking good to be Chrysotoxum Verralli. This is still new territory for me though, so I went straight to my ‘bug friend’ Liam Olds, who has a vast amount of bug knowledge and is very open to receiving the odd ID request from me, which I’m truly grateful for! He quickly checked for key features and as I suspected, it looked good for Chrysotoxum verralli, but he requested I still ran it by the Uk Hoverflies facebook group to be 100% sure, as if it was C.Verralli, it would be a first record for Wales!

The stakes just went up! so I popped all my pics on the facebook group and who should comment, but the co-author of my Hoverfly book! Roger Morris himself! and confirmed that it is indeed Chrysotoxum verralli. I couldn’t have had a better person to confirm that for me so I’m chuffed to bits.

Chrysotoxum Verralli

I shouldn’t get too excited though, as this actually happens quite a lot. In the same week, Martin Bell discovered a Sandrunner Shieldbug in Slade Wood which is another first for Wales! The truth is, there’s probably a lot more out there that we simply have not discovered yet and I am living proof that anybody, no matter how much experience you have, can discover something new, if you just slow down and pay attention to the details.

Marsh Fritillaries

It’s been on my ‘todo list’ for a few years now to make the effort and see the beautiful Marsh Fritillary butterflies at one of our last known breeding sites in Aberbargoed. I believe most of the site is a former colliery, a habitat formed from the scars of industry, but this scar has healed, even when it was thought to never heal again. It’s actually proving to be a ‘win’ in conservation terms, as the coal spoil itself has created a variety of micro habitats because of the way the spoil handles water. Some water gets trapped creating marshy habitats, some completely runs off creating dry patches. This water management has resulted in such a variety of plants occupying the same habitat, which is proving to be just what our insects need, as with most insects, they need a variety of plants to complete their life cycle.

This is why our modern farm practises aren’t good for biodiversity. Fields are drained to turn into dry grassland, replace with poo and chemicals which pollute our waterways. Ground nesting birds still move in, lay their eggs, and then the farmer will cut the grass, killing all that once lived there, Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals, all dead or injured, which then attracts the predators, foxes, birds of prey, crows and gulls, of which are then blamed for feeding on still-birth lambs, and until quite recently, persecuted for it, because NRW allowed for licensed shooting of these animals who are just cleaning up after our mess.

Specialist species like the Marsh Fritillary don’t stand a chance in modern Britain. We’re so caught up in that ‘human race’ thing called life, that we forget we’re ruining it for our future generations. The exploitation needs to stop. We need more protection for nature. There are good farmers out there doing all they can to minimise their impacts on nature but it’s doing to take more than just the good will of the minority. Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation, RSPB, they are all doing their part to try and balance the equation but it’s not enough. If our government doesn’t act now, species like this will be lost forever.

Sorry rant over, also included in the photos were some very fast Dingy Skipper Butterflies, a Drinker Moth Caterpillar, some microscopic Gorse Shieldbug Eggs and a scenic shot of an emerging Fox Glove in a field of blossom. All these shots were taken with my Canon 100mm macro which is proving to be good investment. It’s nice to roam around with a small lens for a change. Lugging the telephoto and tripod around can be a bit much all the time.


Steve Williams took this photo.. I’ve clearly been eating too much chocolate this easter haha.

It was great to meet up with Liam Olds, Steve Williams and Mike Kilner over easter. I aimed to show them my Violet Oil Beetle location and we weren’t disappointed with over 40+ individuals found. I’ve since found them a few miles away also on a road side verge. Proof that this valley has to be one of the largest strongholds for this species. We recorded 10 Species of Bee thanks to Liam Olds’ vast knowledge, including a Chocolate Mining Bee which was a first for me. It really is great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable naturalists, there’s so much knowledge to obtain about the natural world, I wish I could soak it all up faster! Everything I know, I’ve learned from other people, or by myself through personal discovery and research. It goes to show that if you’re passionate about something, you learn much faster. This is why most people struggle with their current Jobs as you really need passion to drive you forward. I know I’m currently struggle with Jobs, being out of work since October, but I do believe I’m heading in the right direction, to obtain a Job that will give me a sense of purpose, which is after-all what we all want in life.

Here are a few pics from easter. I’ve spent more time out with the recording gear really so haven’t got too many images but I did have some good moments - My first Wood Warbler of the year, a showy Sedge Warbler and my favourites were actually the bugs, Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle and those cute glaring eyes of the Jumping Spider (evarcha falcata). I did go down to see Blair Jones’ Red-necked Phalarope at Goldcliff which has been proving to be a great birding spot this spring, with Black Kite, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover and all the usual supporting cast. While it does tick a few boxes for me, I’m not sure ticking boxes is really my thing. I’ve never made a year list, local list or life list of any kind, I just want to experience nature and take whatever opportunity nature decides to throw at me.

Firecrest Update

If you haven’t been following, I’m studying mimicking behaviour in Firecrest this year and so far, 3 out of 3 males on territory have been able to produce a goldcrest mimic to varying degrees.
The original bird discovered is still by far the best at mimicking goldcrest which is probably why it stood out to me so well to begin with, but the others have used mimicry in a more subtle way.

Not only was the original Firecrest better at the mimic, but it also used it way more often. This could be because there aren’t any other Firecrests in its territory, so why waste time singing Firecrest? Note in the spectagram that it’s producing 3 notes per peak and with the iconic ‘trill’ at the end. Over-all producing 29 notes including trill.

Firecrest No.1 Mimic

Firecrest No.2 only used the odd mimic within a single song and while it still produced 3 notes per beat, the end ‘trill’ is reduced to only 2 notes, notes of which are more typically expected at the end of the Firecrest song. On average the bird produced 16 notes including the trill at the end. It’s worth saying that the amount of beats doesn’t matter too much as even a real goldcrest song this can vary, however so far the birds who sing less notes and also singing a less perfect rendition of the goldcrest song which is why I’m documenting them.

Firecrest No.2

Firecrest No.3 is by far the most interesting bird, largely because of the circumstances in which it used the mimic, doing so directly after hearing a distant goldcrest singing inside its territory, this can be picked up on during the recording. It only lets out one burst of mimic, which is so simplified it hardly meets the requirements of mimicking but it does have the overall structure. Rather than 3 beats, it has just 2 and this bird neglected the trill at the end entirely. Again, this isn’t going to be a completely controlled study as even goldcrest vary, but it’s interesting to hear these mimics used naturally at a time of year where territories are being established and a birds song is never more imperative than in early spring.

Firecrest No.3

It’s worth noting also that the tempo for each bird also varies;

  1. 154bpm (Sang 12 or more times)

  2. 182bpm (Sang 2 times)

  3. 184bpm (Sang 1 time)

This could be nothing but the bird with the most accurate mimic does sing the phrase the slowest and the bird with the less accurate depiction sings the phrases the fastest. More recordings over the breeding season should reveal whether any of these observations are a coincidence or not but it’s all being documented included frequency of notes.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’d like to know just how accurate these mimics are and I’ll compare all my recordings this year side by side with real Goldcrest songs so that by the end of the study, we’ll hopefully be able to trust our ears again when listening out for Firecrest in the field.

So far I’m noticing that the Goldcrests sound is a little ‘thinner’ with less overall weight to it but that might not be enough to go by, on its own.

Red Grouse Conservation @ BBNP

I know, it's been a while since I've blogged...and what have I brought you after all this time? Pictures of poo.

Apologies for that. As you probably guessed I've been extremely busy. I haven't picked up the camera in weeks! As sad as that is, these last two months have been pretty amazing. I'm loving my new Job and thought I would share with you the areas which I enjoy the most. The BBNP take conservation quite seriously, with a great ecology team ever pushing the standards. Red Grouse are one species that are of particular concern as they are a good indicator species for the health and well-being of our heathland. The BBNP participate in annual Grouse Counts to monitor the species but they also do everything they can do improve the Grouse' chances of breeding. Below you'll see pictures of Grouse Poo.. quite easy to identify once you've got your eye in.


We also like to supplement the grouse with piles of grit to help them digest their food. Grit can be found naturally on the mountain but by purposefully placing the grit in areas that are more secluded, the Grouse don't have to venture out into the open areas to find it which gives them a better survival rating. 


Heather restoration is also very important and a massive Job to maintain thanks to climate change. The mountains are getting warmer and Heather being an upland species, actually prefers the colder altitudes (which is why you usually only see these species of plant on the top). Heather is also victim to encroaching species like Bracken that is actually moving up the mountain due to warmer temperatures. There are other factors of course like heather beetle that actually damages the heather. 

So how do we tackle these issues? Well the BBNP take two approaches; 

  • Bracken Bashing is a simplistic, but effective way of killing the bracken, giving the heather a better chance of growing and reclaiming the outer edges.  
  • Heather Seed Harvesting is another way of ensuring the future of the heather and can be either stored ready for future restoration, or it can be dried and sown the next year in the areas that need it the most. 

Below is a picture of the first bag of seed we gathered this week. This bag will be filtered through a finer mesh back at the depot to filter out the leaves/twigs from the seeds. Eventually we'll end up with just the pale round seeds ready for sowing in the future. 


I've really enjoyed this activity. Red Grouse are really incredible upland species and a Joy to have on the hill. If you haven't seen one, get up at the crack of dawn to your local heathland and you may just get lucky. They are most active in the morning I have found and can be heard and seen, moving into the open areas of young heather to feed. 

Below is a beautiful picture of a Red Grouse, taken locally by superb photographer and friend Mike Warburton. Click the picture for a link directly to his Flickr page. 

Brecon is approaching

Having celebrated my 27th Birthday yesterday, I was reminded how fast the year is going! It used to be the horrible feeling of going back to school after an endless summer break (that mostly consisted of running around the mountain side). September 1st was never a great day for me, I didn't particularly enjoy school, in-fact, I hated it. I've never been a social person and often found the local green patch of woodland my only escape from the busy crowded life of school. That was later replaced with College where I finally got to study something I love (Music). It seemed the only thing I was good at, despite having a talent for Art, which dreams were halted after receiving my disappointing GCSE results that reminded me that talent alone doesn't get you good grades. I pursued my music further into University and that is where all the magic happened for me.. I grew up, started to realise what was most important, and asked myself a few important life questions. What are my Values? 

I couldn't answer that question at first, but the second year it all came together. I Value Detail.. Probably not the answer you was expecting..But I value detail in everything, small or big, whether that be detail in sound, sight, smell or touch. I value my Family and loved ones for the amount of detail they have enriched my life with, I value nature for all its unlimited inspiration. The problem for me is, my values aren't shared with all and are certainly not expendable...neither am I. We only get a short time on this planet and for me, my chosen career choice is one based upon value and responsibility.  

It hasn't been long since I was running around the mountain side as a kid and yet I'm already seeing those green spaces lost to development or forgotten. The best part for me in school was that small pocket of woodland escape.. a place that is now completely cut off from the children with an 8ft metal spiked fence. 

So here I am today, studying, learning and doing all I can to get a career in Conservation. Come September 1st I'll be travelling back and forth Brecon every day to start my new post as a Trainee Warden for the National Park.  I'm still volunteering for Gwent Wildlife Trust and Welsh Water at Llandegfedd Reservoir.  I hope that through sound recording and photography that I can show you everything I value, in the hope that we start to appreciate what we have and do all we can to protect it. 

I'll leave this waffling with a terrible picture of a Glow Worm from South Sebastopol (taken last week). Yes, we have Glow Worms, or should I say, we used to? Because this is possibly the last site in Gwent for Glow Worm and we are waving it goodbye as Taylor Wimpy rid the site of all its diversity to build 1200 houses. Oh but it creates Jobs and gives us homes to live in.. yes, but at what cost? 

Feeding Station Data Sheet Progress

I just wanted to say a big thank you to those who are activily using my sightings form for the Llandegfedd Feeding Station. It has been really useful so far and is filling the gaps that I can't attend which makes for consistent Data. Thank you Paul, Ian, Brian and Phil, and also some that have told me over social media. You won't be able to read it fully but here is a screenshot of the data that you are contributing to. 

Hope you all have a lovely Christmas and Happy New Year. 


Llandegfedd Nestbox Survey Results

While I cannot share sensitive information, the basis of todays survey was pretty defining in that 50% of the boxes onsite needed repairing. A figure that may increase upon checking inside the boxes which is on the agenda for our next visit with a group of volunteers. 

Nestbox Survey

Below is something I knocked up as part of a PDF that I've forwarded to all involved. Sensitive information isn't included and positioning of nest boxes are by no means accurate and to be used only as a guide for our volunteer workforce who will be conducting the work. 5